Fape in the LRE: The New Bloodborne Pathogens
This article originally appeared in START Connecting in September 2019.
Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is a foundation of special education. It is important that all school professionals and family members understand these terms in order to support students with disabilities. This is why we recommend that administrators, general and special education teachers, and itinerant and ancillary staff receive information and training about FAPE in the LRE at the beginning of every school year. Just like staff complete annual training about bloodborne pathogens, being reminded about these ideas can help us make sure that our schools remain supportive and inclusive of students with disabilities.
It is a legal right of students with disabilities to have the same educational opportunities for the same number of days and hours as their non-disabled peers. To accomplish this, districts are required to develop an IEP that specifically outlines the special education and related services to be provided. According to IDEA, special education, or more specifically ‘specially designed instruction’, is defined as “adapting the content, methodology or delivery of instruction” to accomplish two primary goals: address the student’s unique needs, and to ensure access to the general curriculum in order to meet the educational standards that apply to all children in the state. Based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, FAPE also includes developing an IEP that results in meaningful educational benefit including progress on appropriately ambitious goals and other important skills (e.g. communication, behavior, social, engagement, independence) (Endrew v. Douglas County School District).
IDEA also requires that students with disabilities receive their FAPE in the LRE, the same educational environment as non-disabled peers (i.e. general education) to the ‘maximum extent appropriate’. Special classes or other removal of students with an IEP from general education should occur only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that, with supplementary aids and services, education in general education cannot be achieved satisfactorily (i.e., the student cannot make progress on appropriately developed IEP goals and the general education environment cannot benefit the student). Further legal support for LRE was recently provided by the L.H. v. Hamilton County Department of Education case. Not only is providing LRE the law, but research demonstrates that even for students with extensive support needs, access to the general education curriculum in the general education environment is associated with better outcomes in variety of academic, social, and behavioral areas, as well as improved long term outcomes, like employment (SWIFT Report).
Disciplinary Removal and Reduced Day Schedules
Students with IEPs who demonstrate behavioral challenges are sometimes excluded from receiving FAPE in the LRE. In some cases, students with disabilities have been suspended or removed from their educational placements for disciplinary purposes. A recent Dear Colleague letter expresses concern that disciplinary removals often occur in situations where appropriate positive behavioral interventions and supports are not implemented. The letter offers recommendations for schools and families who may be dealing with exclusionary discipline practices. A second concern that affects FAPE in the LRE is that IEP teams sometimes recommend reduced day schedules for students with IEPs. To respond to this issue, the Michigan Department of Education provided clear guidelines for IEP teams who are making decisions about reducing a student’s hours in school as a way of managing behavior.
Written by: Kelly Rogers, Psy.S., BCBA